Participation drops in Summer Nutrition Programs

By Agri-Pulse staff


© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 8, 2011 - Fewer children participated in Summer Nutrition Programs as recession-driven cuts in summer schools and youth programs led to fewer sites that could offer summer meals. Since July 2008, total participation nationwide in the Summer Nutrition Programs has dropped by 90,000 children, according to Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation, an analysis by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

FRAC measures how well the Summer Nutrition Programs are reaching children in need by comparing the number of low-income children receiving summer meals to those receiving free and reduced-price school meals during the normal school year. In July 2010, only 15 children received Summer Nutrition for every 100 low-income students who received lunch on an average day in the 2009-2010 school year, a significant decrease from 2009's ratio of 16:100.  

 “While participation in other federal nutrition programs grew rapidly because of the recession, participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs continued to slide. It's time to reverse this trend. This is a time for action,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

The report noted that some states managed to increase participation in summer meals. Arizona led the way with a 44.6 percent increase in the number of children from July 2009 to July 2010. Arkansas (36.5 percent), Utah (23.9 percent), Wyoming (17.6 percent) and Tennessee (14.9 percent) also had large increases in participation.

In the report, FRAC outlined a series of opportunities at the federal, state, and local level to improve participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs:

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·         At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing important leadership with the first-ever National Summer Food Service Program Week: “Food That's In, When School Is Out.” This week-long campaign (June 6 - 10) aims to raise awareness about the risk of hunger low-income children face during the summer months and the benefits of summer food and other programs that can make sure children have access to nutritious food year round.  

·         Nonprofits and schools can embrace new provisions included in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization law-the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act-that support summer food expansion and outreach efforts.

·         USDA's two 2010 Summer Food demonstration projects have shown a significant impact on participation and should be replicated. Federal funding was provided to encourage sponsors in Arkansas to operate Summer Food for more days across the summer and to provide activities at sites in Mississippi; participation grew in both states as a result.

·         Some state agencies, such as the Arizona Department of Education, have taken aggressive steps to grow the program-recruiting more sponsors and sites and conducting outreach to families. More states should follow their lead.

·         Schools need to recommit to meeting the nutritional needs of their students during the summer, even if they scale back summer school.

“The Summer Nutrition Programs are a vital part of our nation's nutrition safety net. There is a foundation on which we can build and which we cannot afford to weaken further,” said FitzSimons. “It's not too late to make a difference for this summer and for the next.”


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